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Eastern Washington Legislative Conference:

Jim Mohr says faith can dissipate fears

“Fear has a value. It warns of danger,” said Jim Mohr, chair of Gonzaga University’s Institute of Hate Studies.

Jim Mohr

Jim Mohr serves on the board
of the Institute of Hate Studies
at Gonzaga University.

Discussing moving beyond a climate of fear to a climate of empowering action, he told participants in the recent Eastern Washington Legislative Conference in Spokane that “moving beyond fear” is not about eliminating fear but of shifting from making decisions based on fear to making decisions based on faith.

He asked participants to visualize a political pundit, state legislator, philosophy or law that made them fearful.  He encouraged them to sense how they felt—a knot in the stomach, stiff shoulders or wanting to shout.

Then Jim asked them to embrace the person or idea in love, feeling God’s compassion flow through them, and feeling the stiffness and knot dissipate.

“I have you do this visualization exercise so you know how your body experiences fear, hate, anger and rage,” he said.  “We need to recognize those feelings so we can go beyond fear in making decisions and know how love feels so we can move away from fear.

“We spend too much time thinking that what we fear is outside of ourselves.  We spend too much time thinking that if only someone else or something else changed, our fear could vanish,” he said.  “I do not believe this.  Fear is a part of us and we decide what we fear and do not fear. If we bring the person or policy within us, the fear vanishes and we can give in to hospitality. As we recognize what our fear tastes, smells, feels, sounds and looks like, we learn how to move into our fear.”

Lakota Sioux teach people to face into a storm, as a buffalo does with its broad head and protective fur coat, and to charge through it.  If the buffalo runs away, the storm (fear) keeps chasing it and will exhaust and overcome it.

“We need to move beyond fear, violence, greed and hate.  Faith is our natural inclination that brings us through storms.  The faith community makes us ready to stand up for what is right,” Jim said. 

“Fear tempts us.  It takes root and lives in our head and hearts, fed by media rich with entertainment rather than enlightenment.  It is fed by religion that seeks wealth and power more than salvation,” he said.  “Our spirits of love, hope and compassion shrink when that happens.  Fear, hate, bigotry and paranoia move in, blinding our ability to work on solutions.”

Soon people fall victim to fear and become its slave in making decisions, he said.

“We believe spending trillions on military is better than spending on education, infrastructure or care for the vulnerable in our society,” Jim said.  “While we protect ourselves from threats that exist in our heads, but not in reality, we ignore other threats that are more dangerous.”

Jim believes faith can free people from enslavement to fears through six strengths faith communities teach:

Self awareness enables people to move into and beyond their fear—to light a candle in the darkness.  The fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness and self-control—can bring light to dark parts of one’s mind and heart where fear lives.

• A deep trust in God means people of faith are not alone, but work through their fear, knowing God is with them. 

Hope means people can move forward into a storm.  It is a positive, visionary belief in what will be, transforming people to act in courage and resist despair.

Forgiveness frees people from the prison of fear, anger and vengeance without ignoring wrongs.  It allows people to break the cycle of hate and violence to secure justice, so they are spirit-centered not fear-centered.

• The ability to focus on others’ needs overcomes fear.  Being other-centered helps people realize that those with different ideas have needs, humanity and dignity.

Faith gives people power over fear and can transform thinking so actions are spirit-based, making room for love, cooperation and justice.

With these strengths, Jim said, the faith community can protest, teach others and talk to elected officials.

Jim urged participants to speak out, act ethically and “bring God’s justice to the world.”